Lab called Thaba wins best of show in loyalty

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 20, 2002

With the opening of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in theatres last weekend, we are reminded once again of the high value our society continues to place on loyalty, as Harry and his two sidekicks, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger confront the dark forces of evil at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

In some ways, their friendship is not unlike the loyalty among Gordie, Chris, Vern and Teddy, the four boys in Rob Reiner's 1986 "coming of age" film, Stand By Me. The support of each boy for the other, often at great personal risk, mirrored lines from Ben E. King's 1961 hit song by the same name: "I won't be afraid just as long as you stand, stand by me."

Some would caution, however, that dependency-producing loyalties must be held in check. Coffee companion and psychologist Laurie Seaman writes:

LOYALTY TO SELF is a primary value for adult human beings. Without it, we tend to abandon self and expect others to look after us, in exchange for us looking after them. We try to receive from others what we might well do better for ourselves.

In fact, we live this loyalty-to-self principle in many parts of our human experience. We don't say, for example, I don't care about my own dental hygiene, but I'll brush your teeth for you, and you can brush mine for me.

I suspect most disloyalty to others is rooted in lack of healthy commitment to self-caring. We seek in others what we fail to give to ourselves. It's a kind of "contracting out" to others: "I can't or don't know how to provide this for my own self; will you do it for me? I don't love myself, but it will feel really good if you do."

Loyalty is not about self versus others. When I know and value the person I am, and remain loyal to that with care and respect, I am best prepared to extend enduring loyalty to the other.

—Laurie Seaman, Calgary

IF LAURIE'S advice sounds familiar, consider these lines from Hamlet: "This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."

Speaking of Shakespeare, do you remember the heart-rending question, "Et tu, Brute?" spoken by Julius Caesar upon recognizing his trusted friend Brutus among his assassins? Loyalty shines most brightly against the darkness of its opposite, betrayal.

Coffee companion and biblical scholar Ross Amy sent me several examples of betrayal in the Bible: Absalom, King David's treacherous son who attempted a palace coup to take his father's throne in Israel (2 Samuel 15:1–19:8); Judas, a member of Jesus' inner circle, who sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14–16, 47–50); and Peter, also a member of Jesus' inner circle, who, during Jesus' pre-crucifixion trial, three times denied knowing the Galilean whose fledgling flock of followers he would later lead after being confronted with and forgiven for his disloyalty (Matthew 26:69–75).

Ross's examples seem to lend weight to the words of the 2nd century B.C. Hebrew sage Ben Sirach, who warned: "Keep away from your enemies, and be on guard with your friends." But Sirach was also quick to affirm the value of true loyalty: "Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter: whoever finds one has found a treasure."

Morley artist Roland Rollinmud understands well that kind of loyal companionship. While discussing the topic over coffee the other day, Roland told me about Thaba, a black Lab that accompanied him everywhere in his teen years.

"When I would be riding back from my trap line late at night, Thaba would stay especially close, circling around to make sure everything was safe," Roland told me.

But the relationship was mutual, he said. One early spring day while Roland was hunting beaver, Thaba fell through crumbly ice and could not get back to shore on his own. At that point Roland stretched out across the ice and extended his hand to an old friend who so often in the past had also stood by him.

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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